July 25, 2006

Animated Manhattan: An American Tail

Part 11 in an ongoing series looking at New York City in animation.

Don Bluth’s 1986 movie An American Tail tells the story of the Mousekewitz family’s immigration to America through New York City in 1886. Along the way, their son Fievel gets separated from the rest of the family. He spends the rest of the movie wandering through 1886 New York trying to find them. Oh, and did I mention that this is a family of mice?

American TailWhen the family comes to America, they go through Castle Garden, pictured at right, which was the immigrant processing station at the time. Ellis Island wouldn’t open for a few more years. Today, Castle Garden is known as Castle Clinton, and it still stands in Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan.

But while Fievel’s family go through Castle Garden, Fievel lands at the still-under-construction Statue of Liberty. That’s where he meets Henri the pigeon, who designed the statue and hopes to finish building it before the movie ends.

American Tail American Tail

Feivel spends the next hour wandering around the lower east side. He hangs out on Hester Street, gets conned by a rat (you gotta watch out for those rats), makes friends with some other mice, almost gets run over by the 2nd Avenue El, and participates in an attempt to rid New York City of cats. All while searching for his family.

American Tail American Tail
American Tail American Tail

Most of New York City in the background is kind of generic. There’s not much by way of recognizable landmarks. Of course, so much of Manhattan has changed that it would be hard to find anything recognizable anyway. But I did find this one nice detail. The full frame is on the left, with a close up on the right:

American Tail American Tail

That’s a menu from Delmonico’s in the background. Delmonico’s was the first restaurant in the United States, where Eggs Benedict and Chicken à la King were invented.

American TailIf you don’t already know, you won’t be surprised to learn that Fievel does indeed find his family at the end of the movie. This happens to coincide with Henri’s completion of the Statue of Liberty. So he picks up Fievel and his sister and flies them around for an aerial view.

American Tail American Tail

That last shot of the Statue could never happen in real life, because the Statue faces East in reality. In the picture, she faces South.

American TailThe closing credits of An American Tail have orange-tinted pictures of old New York City in the background, with the credits over them. I was immediately reminded of Fritz the Cat, the first movie I viewed in this series, which also utilized orange-tinted views of old New York City in the closing credits.

This sickly-sweet movie wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it was when I was a kid. But it’s nice to see a historic version of New York City depicted in animation.

IMDb Rating: 6.5/10
BCDb Rating: N/A
My Rating: 7.5/10

(My rating is for the series’ depiction of NYC only)


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